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Will Palm Wave Goodbye?

By Craig Buckler

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Smartphone and PDA manufacturer Palm, Inc is reported to be selling itself and could be seeking bids from other corporations within a few days. The company is currently ranked sixth in the US smartphone market but has posted 11 sequential quarterly losses.

It should have been so much better. Palm was the leading PDA manufacturer during the 1990s but were slow to realize the potential of the mobile phone market. However, the company looked certain to revitalize its fortunes with the Palm Pre and Pixi devices. The phones received critical acclaim as did the Linux-based WebOS operating system. WebOS is of particular interest to web developers since it allows native mobile applications to be developed using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Comparison with the iPhone are inevitable but, unlike Apple, Palm offers:

  • a multi-tasking OS (that’s coming to the iPhone, but the Pre had it from day 1)
  • a Flash player (coming soon)
  • a pull-down qwerty keyboard as well as the touch-screen
  • a free SDK and virtual phone available to Windows, Mac and Linux developers
  • a less restricted App Catalog which permits emulators — such as one which allows users to run thousands of legacy Palm OS applications
  • a ‘homebrew’ application market without an approval process.

It’s a great phone but sales have been disappointing. The Pre was launched in mid-2009 — the iPhone had been available for 2 years and was already well established in the market. The problem was compounded by early hardware niggles and slower release schedules throughout the world.

So who’s going to buy Palm?

Microsoft and Apple are not likely be interested. HTC and Lenovo have reportedly made offers. Someone will come to Palm’s rescue but let’s hope they continue the development work on WebOS.

Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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